‘Hercules’ is labored

McClatchyJanuary 17, 2014 

It’s “Clash of the Titans” without Titans, a “Gladiator” with nobody to root for, and a “Samson” sans a proper Delilah.

At times, with its stiff, charisma-impaired cast, its digital sets and slo-mo slaughter, “The Legend of Hercules” has a whiff of the Augean Stables about it — if you catch my drift.

The rest of the time, this star vehicle for “Twilight” lesser light Kellan Lutz rises to adequate — an ancient Greece action pic that benefits by coming out before “Pompei,” before “300: Rise of an Empire” and long before Brett Ratner’s summer spectacle titled, um, “Hercules.” A parade of carnage without blood, romance without heat, stilted dialogue and male cleavage, at its best it’s still vexing as all get-out even to those with a high tolerance for the Cinema of the Gods.

Not to say that it contorts Greek mythology beyond recognition. It doesn’t. This Renny Harlin-directed origin story is about Hercules before he knew he was Hercules. His mother, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), so hates her war-mad husband that she prays for a means of bringing him down. Hera, wife to Zeus, promises her a baby conceived by the god. And that lad, called Alcides, doesn’t know that the cruel King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) isn’t his real dad.

Dad has his suspicions, and lavishes his attention on the inferior first-born son Iphicles (Liam Garrigan). Meanwhile, Alcides (Lutz) falls for the bland but pretty Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss). But she’s the princess the king wants Iphicles to marry.

Alcides/Hercules gets banished for trying to run off with the princess, and as she is to marry “three moons (months) hence,” he’d better get cracking, gladiating his way from Egypt to Sicily to the MMA Greek Octagon finals so he can win back the lady and avenge himself on those wayward relatives.

Armies besiege digital fortresses, digital triremes plow through the Mediterranean, and slow-motion sword fights fill the screen. And between fights, an utterly generic cast utters the blandest lines ever written as they court, conspire, fight and fume.

Lutz is built like a guy who would never get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he bellows his lines in manly fashion. But he makes little impression. Nor do his foes. Weiss doesn’t inspire comparisons, and the villains aren’t any threat to the guy with all the muscles.

There’s precious little sorcery to the “sword and sorcery” genre elements, and the story beats simply hit (and miss) the movies this borrows from (see above).

This “Legend” isn’t legendary and the look is kind of cut-rate. But the 3-D is put to good use in many battles — all manner of stuff hurled at the screen, often in slow motion. “The Legend of Hercules” makes you appreciate the real sets and real locations of “Troy,” the real movie stars cast in it, and the more convincing digital warships that sweep across Homer’s “Wine Dark Sea” in search of myth and mayhem lo those several thousand years — and several Greek-myth movies — ago.

THE LEGEND OF HERCULES

* *

Cast: Kellan Lutz, Roxanne McKee, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Liam McIntyre, Liam Garrigan

Director: Renny Harlin

Running time: 1:36

Rated: PG-13; sequences of intense combat action and violence, and for some sensuality

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